Last of the O'Rourkes is now Lethal Obsession--
The same book (a few updates!) same great story.
A "TOP TEN" read for 2004 at MyShelf.com
LAST OF THE O'ROURKES
Now available in print and ebook!
"...Oh my! Kate Douglas does it again in this sequel to her charming romance Honeysuckle Rose...This is a wonderful, emotional romance, featuring two spellbinding characters. The heat is there, in the love story and in the solid and suspenseful plot that runs beneath. If you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss is about when it comes to romance novels, you should definitely read this one. Kate Douglas has penned yet another winner. No surprise to those of us who have enjoyed her work in the past, and certainly a welcome addition to her titles that already grace our bookshelves.
Reviewed in May 2003 by Celia.
"...The well-written dialogue and fast-paced scenes keep a reader turning the pages, holding one‘s breath, in hopes that Kat and Seamus will finally admit their love before it’s too late. This is a very poignant love story, a ‘not-to-be’ missed book. Kudos to Ms. Douglas for another ‘keeper’!"
".....I loved this story. It is a delight to see this miss-matched pair slowly but surely slide into love, and when the so calm Seamus lets go, he does so with a bang. It is a very well written story full of succulent details and layer on layer of character build-up, chock-full of high sensual tension and a tablespoon of suspense...sigh."
Reviewed by MamaZ (Patricia Zuca Ramirez-Haley) for Timeless Tales Reviews
"...Seamus is a refreshing hero and a decidedly non-alpha-male...a nice change for readers tired of the masterful males that populate the romance world...an exciting and romantic tale. A tightly plotted mystery and believable characterizations further enhance the story."
Jen Tally Exum for Romantic Times May 2003 4 Stars
SATISFACTION, A SENSE OF completion...satiation tempered with desire, so much like the aftermath of orgasm. It should not have been so easy...he fought the urge to laugh aloud, recalling his gut-clenching fear, his trembling fingers as he'd grasped the steering wheel, yanked hard and veered the car tightly to cut the other motorist off at precisely the right moment.
Precision counted. Precision and planning. He'd relish that moment forever- the shocked expression in his victim's eyes, the brief flash of recognition, the terror of impending, unalterable death.
If only he'd known...he'd never once imagined the gratification, the power, the unbelievable sense of control.
His first kill.
Now this pleasure...watching from the shadows, relishing the aftereffects of his deed, visualizing the next steps in this most thrilling game of cat and mouse.
Kat and mouse? No...he was the cat...feral, a killer. A killer who had tasted first blood.
He'd toyed with his prey long enough.
Smiling in anticipation, gliding silently through the grove of ancient olive trees, he disappeared into the shadows .
A BREEZE. FINALLY A faint breath of air, barely enough to lift away the cloying scent of incense and flowers, but sufficient to stave off the persistent nausea for another moment.
Kat Malone leaned against the rough trunk of a twisted olive tree, doing her best to remain at least partially hidden in the shadows of the small grove. She watched silently as, inch by inch, the simple oak casket disappeared into the freshly dug grave, all the while wondering if there wasn't some way to speed up the process short of goosing the pallbearers. She'd managed to get through the interminably long High Mass and the equally lengthy graveside service, but she knew she couldn't last much longer.
Her skin felt clammy and her stomach churned. The old tree offered welcome support, but if she didn't find a place to sit down soon, she'd probably pass out right here in the cemetery.
Of course, at this point, it probably wouldn't make any difference.
She closed her eyes, swayed slightly, and swallowed past the foul lump in her throat.
Fingers clamped about her arm, vice-like, startling her, but steadying her as well. She looked up, up into the icy green eyes of Riley O'Rourke.
The man who'd just been buried.
No. Riley's eyes are blue…they've always been blue…
HER WORLD GRADUALLY EXPANDED from dark to light, opening like the aperture of an old camera. Her initial fear subsided, giving way to confusion. Riley held her firmly in his arms, his brisk steps carrying her back into the olive grove, out of sight of the other mourners.
No! This wasn't Riley. It couldn't be. Riley was dead, buried moments ago. Riley of the sparkling blue eyes.
I saw them bury you, damn it! She thought of breaking free of the man's steady grip, but lethargy held her arms and legs immobile. Instead, she absorbed what information she could about him.
Know your enemy. One of the first rules she'd learned. An important lesson, it had saved her life more than once.
A stray thought intruded. Why do I immediately think of him as the enemy?
Bemused and disoriented, Kat studied her captor. This stranger, this image of the gentle man she'd loved, was subtly different from the easy-going FBI agent. It was more than the eyes… much more. If possible, his hair was even darker, a little bit longer, his demeanor more intense, his scent...she took a deep breath, inhaling an intoxicating blend of expensive after-shave and man that made her want to shut her eyes and inhale all over again.
Geesh, Malone. Get a grip! She jerked fully awake and struggled enough that he loosed the arm under her knees until her feet touched the ground. He steadied her with one hand while his other arm lightly supported her at the waist.
She inched away, out of his reach. Confusion sharpened by a brief stab of pain followed her.
Riley's dead. He's dead. He's…
"You're not going to keel over again, are you, ma'am?"
Kat shook her head in quick denial. She keyed on his voice. It was different, definitely not Riley's. Deeper…softer. Almost threatening.
Kat Malone never backed away from a threat. Suddenly feeling as if she were back in familiar territory, she raised her chin and brushed a wisp of hair out of her eyes. "I wouldn't have keeled over the first time if you hadn't scared the crap out of me. I thought you were Riley."
"My brother's dead."
"I'm well aware of that fact." Kat stared at him a moment, quickly assimilating the almost imperceptible differences between this man and the man she'd loved. So, Riley had a brother.
One more thing he'd neglected to tell her.
She sighed, closed her eyes and swallowed. "I've spent the morning watching his grieving widow and loving family and friends bury him."
"From the tone of your voice, I assume you're not a close friend of the family." He cocked his head and looked down at her as if she were some sort of bug on the ground.
She studied him a moment before answering, noting the impeccable fit of his black suit, the crisp white collar and cuffs, the perfectly knotted tie. Definitely not Riley. The resemblance was uncanny, but Riley couldn't have acted this arrogant if his life depended on it.
"Until I read his obituary," she said, watching for his reaction, "I didn't even know there was a family. At least, to be specific, a wife."
"Ah. This is beginning to make sense."
"Are there children, too?" she asked, swallowing the bile that wouldn't stay down. She'd really make this guy's day if she puked all over his shiny black shoes.
"Riley and Clarisse were unable to have children."
"I see." Kat swallowed again. "Well, it certainly wasn't Riley's fault."
"What do you mean?"
Even the way he tilted his head as he waited for her answer reminded Kat of Riley, reminded her of the sweetness of the man, the humor...the duplicity. Kat blinked herself back to the present.
"I mean, Mr. O'Rourke, that I loved your brother. I've loved him since the day I met him during an investigation we both worked on well over a year ago. I thought he loved me, too. I changed jobs and transferred out here from Pennsylvania because he asked me to. We talked about marriage, about settling down and raising a family, all the things couples in love generally discuss. Only he neglected to tell me he was already married. In fact, he never said a word about the wife. Who, by the way, must be the one with the fertility problems, because it certainly wasn't Riley."
He stared at her as if she'd suddenly grown a third eye, then lowered his gaze to her flat stomach. "Why would you say something like that?"
"I say that, Mr. O'Rourke, because I'm pregnant with Riley's child."
His reaction stunned her.
"You lying little… How dare you…." He clenched his fists as if he might take a swing.
Kat stood her ground. She'd stared down larger, angrier men than this, though she didn't have a clue why he was so upset. It wasn't like she was accusing him of fatherhood. "Put a sock in it, O'Rourke. I have no reason to lie. Your brother and I had an affair and I got pregnant. It happens all the time."
I just didn't expect it to happen to me.
"Not to my brother, it doesn't. Just what kind of scam are you trying to pull?"
Scam? Kathleen stared intently at the man glaring back at her. What in the hell was this jerk's problem? She swallowed and took a deep breath to give herself time to think of a fitting answer. She blinked and swallowed again.
Then the need for a snappy comeback disappeared entirely. Kat leaned over and puked all over Mr. O'Rourke's fancy black shoes.
KAT WASN'T CERTAIN IF it was humiliation or shock that kept her quiet when Riley's brother pulled his Jaguar up in front of her little bungalow just as the fire truck was leaving. She didn't say a word when Mr. O'Rourke opened the car door for her and helped her out of the low-slung Jag. She even managed to accept, with what she considered remarkable aplomb, the presence of three squad cars and a phalanx of uniformed police officers hovering around her front door.
Then her landlord barred her way at the bottom step and refused to let her pass. Kat saw red.
"Bug off, Morton. You'd better get out of...." She lunged at the little weasel.
O'Rourke grabbed her elbow and stopped Kat dead in her tracks. "What's going on here?" he demanded, looking down on Mr. Morton even though the landlord stood a step above. Kat tried to jerk her arm free.
O'Rourke's grip tightened, firm but not bruising.
She glared at him.
He ignored her.
"I told you the last time this happened I wanted you out of here, lady. This time you pack your bags and get." Morton pointedly avoided eye contact with O'Rourke. He scowled at Kathleen. She noticed a tiny fleck of saliva at the corner of his mouth and wished her stomach hadn't chosen this moment to finally settle down.
She'd really love to puke on his shoes.
"The last time?" O'Rourke's gesture encompassed the squad cars as well as the smoke still drifting out of the side window of the little house. His grip on Kat's elbow tightened. He tilted his chin and looked down his rather patrician nose at her. "This isn't the first time for what?"
The patronizing look on his face fired Kat's adrenaline into overdrive. Damn, the man was infuriating! Just who did he think he was, talking to her like that? He might be Riley's brother, but the two obviously had nothing in common. His disparaging attitude gave her the strength to yank her elbow out of his grasp. She flashed him one of her famous if-looks-could-kill stares.
He didn't flinch.
In a brief flash of insight, she realized she really did owe him an explanation. He had, after all, come to her rescue this morning, whether she'd needed it or not. Kat took a deep breath, turned her back on her sputtering landlord and gestured toward the police captain coming their way.
"Follow me." She brushed past O'Rourke and reached out to shake hands with the officer. "Hey, Sandy." She grabbed his outstretched hand. "I take it my stalker's back?"
"I'm sorry, Kat. We had the place staked out and everything. He must've gotten in during the shift change. Torched the place this time. Really trashed things."
The landlord shoved himself in front of Kathleen again. "I repeat, Ms. Malone, I want you out of here. Today. Don't plan on getting your deposit back."
"Stuff it, Morton. You owe me twice that deposit for all the times I've caught you peeking through the blinds. I don't give freebies. Now out of my way." Kathleen was aware of O'Rourke standing off to one side quietly taking in all the commotion. She turned her back on the landlord and tried to push the image of the tall, raven-haired Irishman out of her mind as well.
Damn, he looked so much like Riley it gave her the creeps. But there was none of Riley's easy going style, none of the loose-limbed awkwardness or easy manner she'd found so endearing.
A wave of nausea swept through her. Look where endearing got you this time, sweetheart. Well, she'd never been known for her intelligent decisions regarding men.
"You probably ought to come in and take a look… let us know if he took anything," Sandy was saying. "Be prepared, though. It's bad. Really bad." Still muttering about the damage, he turned and led the way to the front door.
Kat followed Sandy down the walk to her tiny cottage behind the landlord's house and ducked under the yellow CAUTION tape stretched across the front porch. She was aware of O'Rourke following silently behind her and had to stifle a grin when one of the officers allowed him through but restrained the fuming landlord.
She wasn't prepared for the mess that greeted her. "Oh, my God." Once again a strong hand at her elbow steadied her. She heard the sharp hiss of in-drawn breath.
"You're not going to be sick again, are you?" His voice was so close she almost jumped.
She shook her head. "No," she whispered. "I'm okay."
"That's a relief. Though I wouldn't blame you if you did throw up. This kind of wanton vandalism would make anyone ill."
"Gee, thanks." She tugged her arm free of his grasp and stepped away. Damn! She'd loved this little place in spite of her slimy landlord. A quiet, furnished little house that actually had some character to it. Now it was splashed throughout with painted vulgarities and threats, not done with a spray can but brushed on thickly, red paint over wallpaper and cabinets, across the appliances in the kitchenette.
Red paint. Dripping blood-red paint.
A fire had melted the small plastic trashcan near the sink and black soot streaked the walls. Long cobwebs hung from the ceiling, invisible until the soot had given them substance. Greasy black smears covered every unpainted surface where investigators had dusted for prints.
Sandy tapped her on the shoulder. "We'll need to get Mr. O'Rourke's prints so we can figure out which ones don't belong here."
"Different O'Rourke." Kat's hand went to her belly, consciously cradling the life she carried. "Sandy, meet Riley's brother, the other Mr. O'Rourke. Riley was killed in a car accident four days ago."
"Ah, gee, Kat, I'm sorry to hear that." He held his hand out to the man beside her. "Sandy Wilson, SFPD," he said. "Kat and I have worked on a number of cases together since she transferred to the San Francisco office. I assumed you were Riley. You look just like him...we only met once before. I didn't know he'd been killed. I am truly sorry for your loss. He seemed like a helluva nice guy."
"Seamus O'Rourke." O'Rourke shook hands with the officer. "Riley and I are...were…fraternal twins, but other than our eye color we were almost identical. Your confusion is perfectly understandable." He gestured toward the vandalized kitchen. "What's going on here?"
Kat glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, surprised by the lack of emotion in his voice. He'd dismissed Sandy's sympathetic remark about his brother's death as if they discussed a stranger.
This guy was definitely nothing like Riley.
"Kat's got a stalker." The police captain frowned, his frustration evident. "We figure it's someone she helped arrest somewhere along the line. There've been references to a few things in his…um…writing."
Seamus glanced once again at the stained walls and the room littered with filth. Anything to take his mind off thoughts of Riley. His brother had obviously spent time here in this room. Had most likely made love to the beautiful blonde. Maybe there on the couch? Seamus blinked away the image just as Wilson patted Kathleen on the back. The friendly act made him bristle.
"You got someplace to go tonight, kid?" Wilson's hand still rested, much too comfortably, on Kathleen's shoulder. "You can't stay here until it's cleaned up and the fire damage repaired."
She shook her head. The thick blond hair swung softly with the slight motion. "I'll get a hotel room. Thanks anyway, Sandy."
"You know you're welcome to stay with us. Jane loves having someone to fuss over."
Kat smiled sadly at the captain and shook her head once again. Sighing audibly, she turned away to inspect the damage.
"How about you, O'Rourke? Got an extra room at your place?" Sandy watched Kat as she poked aimlessly through the mess. "I worry about her. This guy's scary and I don't think she appreciates the danger she's in. Kat's too damned stubborn for her own good."
"What? You want me to take her home? I hardly know the woman." Seamus stared at her a moment, trying once more to fathom the relationship between his irascible twin and the tall blonde.
The tall blonde who might possibly be carrying his brother's child. The odds were against it, but what if…
"That's your loss, then, isn't it, Mr. O'Rourke?"
Hell, now even the police captain was pissed at him. Seamus clenched, then unclenched his fists, finally accepting the inevitable. "You're right. She can't stay by herself." He glanced down at his spotless black shoes and shook his head. "She's had a pretty harrowing day."
Why did he feel as if he were making the gravest error in his life? Before he could stop himself, Seamus glanced back at the captain. "She'll stay with me until she finds someplace suitable."
"Excuse me?" Kat swung around from her inspection of a pile of burned books. Ice formed on her clipped words.
"I said, Ms. Malone will come with me." Seamus stepped over the rubble and offered a helpful hand to her arm. She jerked out of his grasp and glared at him. He backed away.
"Over my dead-"
"It very well could be." Wilson spoke to Kat, but it was obvious his words were meant for Seamus. "The attacks are growing more violent, Kat. More personal. You can't deny that. It's risky, you being here alone and all. It was different with Riley in and out of the place like he was. This pervert could never know for certain you were alone. That's changed. If I were you, I'd take Mr. O'Rourke up on his offer."
"Well you're not me, damn it." She glared at both men.
Seamus thought he'd never seen bluer eyes in his life. Riley'd always been a sucker for blue eyes.
Hell, Riley'd been a sucker for anything in a skirt. The legs sticking out from under her short little black number were as long and sleek as any Seamus had ever seen. Riley hadn't stood a chance.
Thank goodness Riley and Clarisse had reached a mutual agreement in their marriage long ago. Clarisse had her affairs, Riley had his, and no one got hurt.
Yeah. Right. Seamus hadn't given Riley's women much thought. Now that he'd actually seen one, touched her, looked into her angry blue eyes, he was suddenly aware of the human toll.
This woman had most likely gone into the relationship with her heart wide open. Riley'd always been a silver-tongued devil, the kind of man women loved to love. Usually, though, the women he chose were worldly enough to understand that for all his flowery words and lofty promises, he'd be gone the moment the winds changed.
But not this one-this tall, cool blonde with crystal blue eyes and the face of an angel. She'd believed his brother, believed in the dream.
Not only had she believed, if what she said was true, she'd accomplished the impossible.
She carried Riley's child. The child neither brother had ever imagined would exist.
It changed everything. This angry woman, obviously a cop of some kind, had accomplished something Seamus and his brother had never, not in their wildest fantasies, dreamed could happen.
If she's telling the truth, she's pregnant with Riley's child.
Hope blossomed where only loss had survived. If she's telling the truth… Stunned by the potential of his changing reality, Seamus finally accepted unimagined possibilities.
He was no longer the last of the O'Rourkes.
AT LEAST HER STALKER hadn't found the new toothbrush she kept in the medicine cabinet. It was about the only thing he hadn't ripped, burned, painted, pissed or defecated on in her home. Kat squeezed her eyes shut.
My stalker. She had to quit thinking of him like that…proprietary, almost as if he belonged to her. Hell, nothing belonged to her any more. The bastard had methodically destroyed what few personal belongings she'd brought to San Francisco during the past three break-ins at her last two residences. She couldn't let herself think about the past, the small treasures she'd lost, the mementos she'd never be able to replace.
It was almost as if he was systematically removing every trace of Kathleen Margaret Malone from the planet. When all her things were gone, she'd be next.
Without warning, Kat leaned over and threw up in the sink.
Shuddering, she raised her head and stared at herself in the mirror. The fingers of her left hand traced the firm contours of her belly. Get a grip, Malone. He hasn't killed you yet.
Kat rinsed her mouth and brushed her teeth. Carefully she washed her face and hands. She knew she'd never feel clean as long as she stayed in this house, but still she lingered.
She was very aware of Seamus O'Rourke waiting, probably impatient as hell, in the main room. Why did he bug her so much? Her rational mind appreciated the fact he'd offered her a place to stay until she could get something more permanent, but the rest of her brain found him overbearing and arrogant as all get out. As irritating as Riley'd been easy going.
However, unless she wanted to spend the next few nights in some motel room, Kat figured she might as well take him up on his offer of a place to sleep. At least until she could find an apartment.
Hopefully, one with a decent security system and a landlord who didn't get his kicks staring through window blinds.
Riley'd never mentioned a brother. Now that she thought of it, Riley hadn't mentioned a lot of things. Her mind kept straying back to the wife-a tall, gorgeous blonde wearing the designer suit, standing less than grief-stricken at her husband's graveside. She'd been leaning heavily on the arm of an equally gorgeous man. From the vibes Kathleen had picked up, she didn't think Riley would be mourned too long from that quarter.
Well, damn it, she'd mourn him. He'd given her the best months of her life. She'd even been excited when she found out she was pregnant, though she'd been almost four months along before the changes in her body, the slight thickening of her waist, the persistent nausea, had made her suspect anything.
Kat grimaced at her pale reflection in the bathroom mirror. "You always were a bit slow on the uptake, Malone." She glanced down at her flat belly, amazed there could be a new life growing there. She still couldn't think of it as a real baby, a child she would someday hold in her arms. In her mind it was just "whatsit." An anonymous little thing that made her feet and waist swell in what felt like equal proportions. An intruder that activated her barf reflex on a regular basis.
She'd waited almost a month to tell Riley.
Be honest, Malone. You didn't believe it yourself. She'd planned to tell him, though, that last evening when Riley had called and said he was on his way over. She'd planned to tell him, not certain if he'd be upset or thrilled.
Still not certain if she was upset or thrilled.
She'd been hurt when he didn't show up, but not worried. Riley'd broken dates before, but he always had an acceptable excuse, a reason, she realized now, that usually made her feel guilty for mistrusting him. After their missed dinner engagement, she'd spent the next three days in court giving a deposition on that damned hijacking case...then she'd picked up the morning paper.
Picked up the paper and read that Riley James O'Rourke, beloved husband of Clarisse, brother of Seamus, son of the late Mary and Alfred, was dead.
Another head-on collision on the freeway. It was just one more messy accident to tie up the rush hour traffic and inconvenience hundreds of tired commuters trying to find their way home.
With his death, everything in Kathleen Margaret Malone's world suddenly shifted perspective. The tiny being growing inside her no longer had a father. The future Kat had nearly fantasized into reality had suddenly, like so many of her dreams, disappeared into thin air.
Once again, she faced the world alone.
She picked up the foamy toothbrush and realized her fingers were steady. In fact, she felt almost preternaturally calm, as if this were just another day in a humdrum world, or as the old cliché went, the first day of the rest of her life.
Which it is.
She took a deep breath, rinsed off the toothbrush, stepped out of the tiny bathroom and walked into the living room beyond. Seamus O'Rourke turned and nailed her with a piercing gaze. Kat hesitated, then took another deep breath.
She'd faced down killers, disarmed smugglers, even caught a murderer or two. Riley's brother actually seemed to think he could order her around. Kat almost smiled with her recovered sense of self. She was not a victim. Never had been, didn't intend to be. Seamus O'Rourke appeared to be under the impression he was calling the shots. It was going to be interesting when he finally figured out she'd been letting him get away with it all morning.
Kat met his glare with one of her own, then tucked her toothbrush into the breast pocket of her suit and picked up her handbag.
It was time for Mr. O'Rourke to learn that life, as he expected it, was about to change.
HE TURNED HIS HEAD as the dark green Jag sped past, though he doubted the bitch would recognize him, especially in this nondescript Buick. Of course, it wouldn't do to be spotted right now, right here...not with red paint staining his slacks. Too bad they were ruined, but it was worth the loss.
Turning the key in the ignition, he took a deep breath and grinned in anticipation. This was too good to be true. Another O'Rourke, identical to the first. A sobering thought, though. He hadn't known there was another one. Success depended on knowledge. Knowledge required study.
He pulled in behind the Jag and followed at a discreet distance. There was no rush. None at all. After all the months of planning, of dreaming about this moment, he'd never once considered how much he would enjoy himself.
Smiling broadly, he followed the dark green sedan through the rolling streets of San Francisco.
"MAKE A LIST. I'LL send the housekeeper out for whatever you need for the next couple of days, at least until you're in condition to shop for yourself."
Seamus turned off the ignition and stepped out of the car before Kat had a chance to respond. She'd been fuming throughout the entire ride from her house to his. By the time he opened her door and reached down to give her a hand, she was ready to explode.
She ignored him, stubbornly folding her arms across her middle. Damn him. She'd wanted to drive her own car, but do you think he'd take her by the cemetery to pick it up?
"I'll do my own shopping as soon as you take me to my car. I'm not getting out until you do."
"Your car will be delivered within the hour. I've already sent for it."
"How?" She glared out of the corner of her eye. He glared back. "You don't have the keys."
"I took them out of your purse."
"You what?" She unzipped her bag and scrambled through the garbage that seemed to collect in there of its own volition. No keys. "You had no right to go through my bag."
"It was done under the watchful eye of the police captain. In fact it was his idea. He didn't want you driving after the emotional strain you've been through. Now please get out of the car."
She figured she could sit here a while longer to make her point, but it wouldn't prove a thing. Besides, if she didn't find a bathroom soon she'd probably wet her pants. It was truly amazing what pregnancy did to a perfectly healthy body. She didn't see Mr. O'Rourke taking lightly to piddle stains on his expensive leather upholstery.
She swung her legs around and stepped out of the car before Seamus could once again offer his hand. For some reason it felt like a victory. A very small victory, but one nonetheless.
A strident voice in the back of her mind reminded Kat she was the one supposedly calling the shots. She pushed the voice aside, grabbed a tight hold on her tiny victory and followed Seamus into the house.
"THIS WILL BE YOUR room." Seamus opened the door and stepped back, waiting for her comment of appreciation, her acknowledgment of the tasteful decor.
Instead she brushed by him and headed directly for the bathroom as if she'd been here a thousand times before.
"You're not going to be sick again, are you?" Please, he thought. Not here. He glanced at the toe of his shoe, wiped clean after this morning and wondered if he'd ever wear this pair again.
He heard the toilet flush, the sound of running water, then she was standing in the doorway wiping her hands on one of his grandmother's delicate hand-embroidered towels. "Thought I was gonna pop." She tossed the towel on the counter behind her. "Nice room." Kat looked around as if she'd just stepped into a Motel 6.
She dumped her bag on the bed and slipped her fitted black jacket off her shoulders, then casually removed a lethal looking pistol from a previously unseen shoulder holster.
Seamus thought for a minute he might be the one to throw up.
"What in God's name is that?"
"It's a pistol, nine millimeter Ruger, to be exact." She carefully unfastened the holster, slipped the harness down her arm and folded the whole contraption into a neat bundle. "Riley carried a gun. You knew that. We have very similar jobs with the same kinds of risks. So what's the big deal?"
"Riley wasn't pregnant," was all he could think to say.
"Well, of course not." She rolled her eyes. "Look, if it's a problem, I'll leave. I can find a room in town, but the gun stays with me. I've had three attempts on my life in the last year alone. You saw what my apartment looked like."
"Just what is it you do, Ms. Malone?" He knew, as with Riley's work with the FBI, she was some kind of investigator…at least that's what the police captain had alluded to. Somehow, though, the reality of a loaded gun tucked neatly under the arm of this tall, slim blonde with the look of a fashion model and the mouth of a street walker wasn't all that easy to digest. Neither was the stark image of the weapon lying on his grandmother's crocheted bedspread,
"I'm a field agent for the Department of Transportation. Or was, that is, until I barfed in my partner's car on stakeout. I've since been assigned desk duty for the duration of my pregnancy." She flashed him a dry, but tired, smile. Seamus had the odd sensation of having been punched in the gut while tumbling down Alice's rabbit hole.
Not a particularly pleasant feeling.
Good Lord, the woman was magnificent when she smiled.
"That doesn't tell me what you do, though, does it?" He struggled for a sense of balance. "Do you have to carry a gun?"
"You are an uptight fish, aren't you?" She smiled again, and once more he felt dizzy with the glory of it. "I guess, to be perfectly explicit, my job requires me to track down crooks within our transportation system. Truck drivers embezzling goods, smugglers bringing things in or taking them out of the country, mob activity-whatever illegal actions someone can think of that affects how goods are moved." She smiled again, holding her hands out as if for understanding. "When you deal with crooks, it's a good idea to at least match their firepower."
"I see. I guess you surprised me. To be quite honest, you don't look the part."
"No, actually, I look like a hooker. A high-class hooker is how my supervisor describes me, but still a hooker. I think that's what got me the job in the first place. I do a lot of undercover work."
She said it with a twinkle in her eye, but her play on words still made his palms sweat. Leave it to Riley to fall for a street walker, or someone who made her living looking like one. "Is that how you met my brother? Working undercover?"
"No. I met Riley on a job in Utah. My partner was the one working undercover. I was his back-up. We were out from the office in Pittsburgh. Riley was brought in from the San Francisco bureau. We hit it off." She glanced down at her perfectly flat middle. "Yeah, you might say we hit it off real well."
"You don't act like a woman in love." Her choice of words grated over raw nerves. Seamus stepped closer. "How do I know you're telling the truth? How do I know you're carrying Riley's child, not some other man's bastard? Hell, how do I know you're even pregnant?"
Seamus knew how to use his size and presence, but instead of backing away from him as he expected, she stood her ground. Her stubborn poise infuriated him. Seamus felt his muscles tense, knew his control was ready to snap.
"Good Lord, O'Rourke. You think I go around puking on people for fun?" Her tired reply undid him.
He practically shouted at her. "My brother was the one with the fertility problems, Ms. Malone. Didn't Riley tell you? It wasn't Clarisse's fault they couldn't have children. It was his. Now you come along outta the blue and tell me you're pregnant and Riley's the father, and you expect me to just swallow your story?" He reached out for some inexplicable reason and raised her chin with his fingers. "Hell, you don't even look pregnant."
He wasn't sure what he expected to see, but it certainly wasn't the flash of vulnerability followed by a rush of blazing anger. "I don't give a rat's ass whether you believe me or not, O'Rourke." She slapped his hand aside. "I may look like a whore, but I don't act like one. As for mourning your brother, well, it's difficult to mourn a man who didn't exist. I fell in love with Riley O'Rourke, a fun-loving, sweet-talking Irish devil who promised me the stars, who swore undying love and said we'd always be together. I don't have affairs with married men, Mr. O'Rourke. I didn't fall in love with a liar and a cheat. That man can go to hell for all I care and I'll not mourn him."
He felt like a deflated balloon, all the fight gone out of him. "Sadly, Ms. Malone, neither will I." Seamus bowed his head and turned to leave the room. Guilt twisted his gut and clamped a cold, hard fist over his heart.
He'd spent his life covering up for his twin, pulling him out of one scrape after another, making excuses for him, compromising his own values to save Riley's tail, wishing him dead more often than not.
One thing he'd learned, Seamus realized. He'd never wish anyone dead again because the guilt was almost unbearable.
He would, however, do one more thing for Riley. He took another long look at Kathleen Malone. She stood in the middle of the room he would always think of as "Gran's room," one hand protectively covering her flat stomach. Silently Seamus vowed he would watch over her.
He'd watch over the sassy blonde with the face of a saint and he'd be there for the child she carried.
Riley's child. As close to his own as any child would ever be. That brief flash of vulnerability in her eyes had told him more than any lie detector, any blood test, ever could. There was no reason to doubt her word.
She did indeed carry Riley's child.
He took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "You must be tired." He paused, one hand on the doorknob. "Why don't you rest. Come down when you feel like it and have some dinner. If you like, I can take you into town later to shop for a few things to replace what was…damaged. Or take your own car. It's entirely up to you."
"You're damned right it's up to me." She held his gaze a moment, clear-eyed and steady, then abruptly turned away and stared out the window.
Women. Seamus glared at her rigid back, searching unsuccessfully for the trace of vulnerability he was certain he'd seen earlier. Shit. You try to be nice...
He turned and stalked out of the room.
The door clicked behind him and Kathleen burst into tears. Damn, it had been one hell of a day. And damn it again, but she didn't want to cry.
But her hormones were totally screwed, she was tired and pregnant and sick to her stomach, and Riley was dead.
She hadn't been telling the truth when she said she wouldn't mourn him. She would. She'd miss his laughter and kindness and the plans they'd made.
Plans he'd obviously never intended to keep, damn him. And damn his insufferable brother Seamus as well. For being kind, for worrying about her, for giving her refuge when she needed it most. She didn't want to owe him a thing. Nor did she want to be intrigued by a man who epitomized all the uptight personality traits she despised. A man who looked exactly like the one she thought she'd loved.
That man obviously never existed at all.
Damn. Damn. Damn it all to hell.
Kat stripped her clothes off and crawled between the sheets, too tired to shower, too emotionally exhausted to care. One hand rested protectively over her belly, protecting her child. Riley's child. The child Seamus told her was impossible.
Later, she thought. She'd worry about it later.
OH, THIS WAS ACTUALLY fun...and so easy. There was no need even to stop the car. He merely noted the location and glided quietly past the mansion.
SHE VAGUELY RECALLED SOMEONE opening her door during the night, but Kat didn't fully awaken until the morning sun filtered through the heavy damask curtains and birdsong filled her mind.
She showered in the perfect little bathroom, combed her wet hair back off her face, then realized she had absolutely nothing to wear.
She checked the closet and practically giggled out loud. The entire thing, from one end to the other, was filled with perfectly pressed, clean white shirts. Identical clean white shirts, exactly like the one Seamus O'Rourke had worn to the funeral the day before.
Kat thought of Riley's rumpled suits and wrinkled shirts and wondered once again how twin brothers could possibly be so different. Then without a second thought, she grabbed one of Seamus's perfect shirts and put it on.
The tail fell half way down her thighs and the cuffs dangled over her hands, covering her fingers. She folded the crisp cotton back to her wrists and checked herself in the mirror to make sure she was covered. Her stomach growled and a familiar wave of nausea reminded her she hadn't eaten since breakfast the day before. She needed something soon or she'd spend the rest of the day feeling like crap.
The doctor had promised the morning sickness would end by her fourth month.
"One more lying male," Kat muttered. Here it was well into her fifth month and she still spent way too much time with her head over the toilet.
With a last glance at her reflection, Kat headed downstairs in search of a meal.
Seamus found her there half an hour later, munching on a piece of toast with jam and reading the want ads in the morning paper. His morning paper. The one he liked to read in precisely the same order each day. He always began with the business section and stock quotes, which appeared to be the same section Kathleen Malone had already folded in half and covered with coffee rings from her dripping cup.
The nervy woman was even wearing one of his shirts. He started to say something, to announce his presence, but just then she shifted in her chair and tucked one bare foot up under her thigh. The shirt slipped a fraction higher, exposing a bit more of her leg.
It was a spectacular leg. Long, lean, well muscled, an athlete's leg. He studied it a moment, allowing his imagination a brief foray into the realm of fantasy, suddenly aware of what he'd missed by never bringing a woman here before.
It was actually kind of embarrassing to admit, if only to himself. In all his thirty-six years, he'd never stepped into his kitchen in the early morning hours to find any woman other than his grandmother seated at the kitchen table.
It had never felt right, somehow, to bring a woman into his home. In his mind, Seamus realized, that was tantamount to making a commitment, something he had no intention of doing. No, you took a woman out to an extravagant dinner, and if the evening progressed in a satisfactory fashion, you booked a room in a very nice hotel.
Then you left a rose or chocolates on the pillow and slipped away before dawn. He'd tried to explain it to Riley one time, how much simpler it was to avoid the complications of relationships that were doomed to failure. Riley had merely laughed.
Seamus had reminded Riley that most women wanted a husband and children. The O'Rourke twins would never be fathers. A shared childhood illness had seen to that. Riley's smug grin had told Seamus the truth…his irresponsible twin had been relieved that children weren't a risk he'd be taking. He'd gloried in his vast conquests among the female population. Even marriage hadn't slowed him down.
No. Nothing had slowed Riley O'Rourke. Not until a hit and run driver on the James Lick Freeway in San Francisco took the Irishman's life.
Seamus had never before considered what he'd been missing. An image flashed into his mind, of waking up in his own bed with Kathleen sleeping next to him, of sharing a quiet morning cup of coffee after a night of lovemaking.
He rubbed his thumbs over his fingertips. His palms were damp with sweat.
Kathleen looked up, as if suddenly aware of his presence. "Oh." She smiled that devastating smile of hers. "Good morning. I didn't hear you come in. I hope you don't mind..." She gestured toward the coffee maker, the grounds scattered amid toast crumbs and a smear of jam on the otherwise spotless counter. "I kind of made myself at home. If I don't have toast or crackers right off the bat, I get squeamish." She gave him a crooked smile, remembering, he was certain, how he'd responded to her version of squeamish.
"Oh, and…uh…I borrowed your shirt."
"I noticed." How could any man not notice? He tried to ignore how she looked.
It wasn't easy ignoring a woman as naturally beautiful as this one. Yesterday she'd been so emotionally overwrought, he'd been so upset, he really hadn't allowed the force of her beauty to register. This morning it was impossible to ignore the natural shine of her shoulder length hair, the high, wide cheekbones, the generous mouth.
Not to mention the lean length of her, the athletic grace so evident in every movement. He didn't even attempt to contain the involuntary sigh that escaped him. For the hundredth time in the past twenty-four hours, Seamus envied his brother. Envied Riley the casual way in which he'd lived his life, the manner in which he'd so easily dumped all his problems on his "older" brother.
Why hadn't he seen it before? Why did it take Riley's death to make him finally understand the truth? Riley embraced life. Seamus endured. Riley had laughed and conquered. Seamus followed the rules. Hell, he'd not only followed them, he'd welcomed them. Rules had protected him, had allowed him to back away from every personal challenge he'd ever faced.
Seamus, the perfect son, was doing his best to make the ghosts of his parents proud. He'd even studied for the priesthood because he thought it would have made them happy.
Thank God his grandmother had convinced him he had neither the calling nor the aptitude. But he'd still walked away suffused with guilt, wondering why he hadn't been able to figure that out for himself.
The alpha male had definitely been the one they'd buried yesterday, he thought ruefully. Which left him, Seamus O'Rourke, holding the bag as usual, waiting for the hammer to fall, the bell to ring, the timing to be off.
He'd always felt this way, so uncomfortable within his own skin. He was perfectly aware he made up for it by projecting an image of strength...one he didn't necessarily feel.
Especially now, with Riley's woman sitting at his kitchen table, her sleek form barely covered in one of Seamus's typically conservative white cotton shirts.
"Is that all you're going to eat?" Immediately he regretted his demanding tone. "I mean, with the baby coming..."
"It's all I can stomach in the morning." She grimaced, then smiled. "I'm taking my prenatal vitamins and eating better later in the day, when my stomach's settled a bit more."
"We definitely want your stomach settled." He turned his back on her and poured his coffee.
SHE SMILED AT HIS dry quip as she watched him, struck once again with the resemblance that wasn't perfect, the subtle differences she found so fascinating.
This morning, wearing a dark maroon robe, his hair still tousled from sleep, Seamus looked more like Riley than he had the day before, but everything else about him was different, unique to himself.
Where Riley had moved in a loose-jointed, almost clumsy manner, this man's grace was as much a part of himself as a cat's. No movement wasted, everything precise.
He made her nervous, made her skin feel tight and her heart pound just a bit faster. It was almost as if she were waiting for something to happen-the way she felt on a job where danger lurked.
Here in this spotless kitchen with the morning sun shining brightly and the scent of fresh ground coffee in the air, danger definitely lurked.
Kat watched Seamus take down a box of cereal from one cupboard, a bowl from another, unable to stop the constant need to compare him to his brother. Riley'd been Don Johnson to this man's Nicholas Cage, easy going and affable to dark and dangerous. Seamus projected raw power, leashed and restrained, but prowling just beneath the surface.
She'd loved Riley as much for the ease she felt in his presence as for his striking physique, coal black hair and twinkling blue eyes. Seamus had the look, but the presence was all wrong. It sucked the air from the room, filled the space and demanded it be acknowledged.
He challenged her personally. And Kathleen Margaret Malone never, ever backed down from a challenge. Maybe his comment hadn't been meant as humor. Had it been an insult?
"I didn't mean to ruin your shoes." She hoped he was perfectly aware from the tone of her voice there was no apology intended. "I didn't puke on them on purpose."
"My shoes will survive," Seamus replied, looking over Kathleen with a judgmental air. "My shirt, however, will never be the same."
She glanced down at the line of grape jam dribbled down the front. "I'm sorry. All right?" She covered her embarrassment with another attack. "It's not like you don't have a whole closet full of them."
"You're right. I do." He glared at her. "And if I want any of them to remain intact, we'd better take you shopping as soon as possible."
"We aren't taking me anywhere. I'm going alone. Don't you have a job or something to go to?"
"I work at home." Suddenly the wall beyond her shoulder appeared to catch his interest.
"Doing what?" Kat consciously toned her voice down as her anger drained away. She'd always been volatile, knew she could be abrasive, but she really didn't have a right to be so rude to the man in his own house. He had, truly, shown her nothing but kindness. He'd even given her, a total stranger, a place to sleep.
"I'm a writer."
Now his spoon full of cereal seemed to demand his attention.
"Wow, really? Like mysteries or thrillers? What do you write?"
He mumbled something unintelligible.
"What?" she asked. Something about food?
"I write food and wine columns for magazines, if you really must know." His expression said I dare you.
She giggled, then bit her bottom lip for control. Food and wine? This big, sexy man with the broad shoulders, booming voice and air of danger surrounding him, wrote about food? Kat sucked both lips between her teeth. It wasn't enough. She couldn't stop it. Her laughter exploded, full and unrestrained while he carefully wiped his mouth with a white cloth napkin and glared at her again.
He'd done that a lot this morning, she thought. She hiccupped, wiped her eyes, and giggled again. "I'm sorry," she said, not really sorry at all. "It's just that you look so much like Riley, and he and I both think beer and hamburgers cover all the food groups. It's not easy to picture Riley as a food critic, you know, other than "hey Sid, ya burned the bun.""
He was still glaring. "I'll remind you once again, Ms. Malone. I am not my brother. Another thing...you need to learn to put him in the past. My brother is dead."
He might as well have slapped her. Maybe she deserved it, but he didn't have to deliberately say things to hurt her. She was hurting enough already. "I'm very aware Riley is dead." She rose stiffly to her feet. "You don't have to remind me, but I'll remind you, Mr. O'Rourke, that when I lost Riley, I lost more than a lover. I lost my memories of him as well. The Riley O'Rourke I loved never existed at all." She brushed the crumbs off the front of her shirt and onto the tile floor, smearing the grape jam into a long purple slash across the white cotton. "I'll take myself shopping, thank you. Don't expect me back for a couple of hours. There are some rentals I need to check on."
She paused in the doorway, but she didn't turn around.
"I'm sorry. This has been a trying time for both of us and I apologize." His mind was spinning, almost out of control. What should he do? He didn't want her to leave. He couldn't tolerate her here. But he'd never rest knowing there was someone out there, stalking, waiting, unless he knew he could protect her.
No, not her. The baby. Riley's baby.
She'd drive him nuts, living here under the same roof. He wouldn't be able to abide her unconventional ways, her attitude, her sloppiness, the gun in the bedroom, her coffee stains on his morning paper.
Damn it all! Riley had called him an anal retentive ass and Seamus had adopted the description as a badge of honor.
He'd never denied Riley was right on target.
He still couldn't allow her to leave.
"Kathleen," he repeated, sighing regretfully the moment he reached his decision. "Please don't go. I'd like you to consider this as your home, at least until the baby's born. It's only right, as Riley's sole surviving relative, that I offer you a place to stay during your pregnancy."
Slowly, Kathleen turned around and faced him.
At least he'd gotten his offer out without stuttering...but why was she staring at him like that?
She shook her head, a look of disbelief on her face. "You're kidding, right?" She grabbed the back of her chair and leaned forward. His eyes were drawn to the deep shadowed V between her breasts and the sudden realization she wore nothing at all beneath his shirt.
"You don't honestly think I'd stay here with you? Not only are we complete strangers, we obviously don't even like each other!" She laughed, sarcasm dripping from every word. "I don't think so, Mr. O'Rourke. I don't need a keeper. Thanks anyway."
"I'm only offering you a room." What could this woman possibly be thinking? He looked away, away from the shadows beneath her eyes, the shadow between her breasts. He concentrated instead on the bowl of cereal turning to mush in front of him.
"I'm not offering my room and certainly not my bed. We don't have to like each other for me to want to help you. My brother got you pregnant. He's dead now. That makes you my responsibility and the offer stands."
He waited a moment for her answer, then when none came, added his final argument in soft, placating tones. "Ms. Malone...Kathleen, there's no need for you to live alone, especially with some nut following you around making threats on your life. That would be foolish, especially when I've got more than enough room here for both of us. This is a very large house."
Seamus silently congratulated himself on his convincing argument when suddenly the image of the filthy threats splashed in blood-red paint across Kat's walls flashed into his mind, filled him with a sense of dangerous urgency. Kathleen needed him. She'd understand that.
"You self-righteous, egotistical fool! There is no place big enough for the two of us to co-exist. The earth is not big enough. Now get this straight…no man is responsible for me, especially you, you sanctimonious ass. How can you sit there looking at me out of Riley's face, talking to me as if I haven't got a mind and a will of my own and tell me I need you to take care of me? I don't need any man, especially Riley O'Rourke's evil twin!"
She thought he was sanctimonious? Egotistical? Hell, she'd just described herself! Seamus leapt to his feet, boiling with righteous fury. His chair skittered back and clattered to the floor as he leaned over the table, his lips just inches from her angry face.
A mere fraction from her mouth.
"You do need a keeper, lady," he yelled, all semblance of control gone. "And for some stupid reason I'm offering to take on the job!"
Then a horrible thought struck him. What if she'd decided not to keep the baby...Riley was gone, what if...? He backed up, almost tripped over the chair lying on the floor behind him. "That's it! You're planning to end the pregnancy, aren't you? You're planning to get-"
"What I do with this pregnancy is nobody's business but mine." She returned his glare with one of her own. "Just as where I choose to live is no one else's business, especially yours. Kat Malone goes it alone." She carefully enunciated each word. "I've lived that philosophy since I was a little girl. It will always be true. I am responsible for myself."
"Goodbye, Mr. O'Rourke, and thank you for your kind hospitality." She brushed her hands together as if to wipe away crumbs. He felt as if she brushed him away as well.
"I'll be leaving shortly. I won't be coming back."
It took a conscious effort for him to shut his mouth as she turned and stormed out of the room.
HE HATED BROODING. RILEY'D made fun of it. His grandmother had lamented over it. But hell, he was good at it. Seamus toyed with his cereal, staring aimlessly at the soggy flakes of bran something-or-other that were supposed to start his day off right.
Well, damn it, it was a little late for that.
He wished, for the hundredth time, his grandmother were still alive. She'd understood him, his deep love/hate relationship with his brother. She'd felt much the same about Riley herself.
She'd know what to say now, to help him find control. But Gran was gone and Kathleen Malone was upstairs dressing in that little black suit she'd worn to his brother's funeral, strapping that deadly looking gun into the harness under her arm, preparing to walk out of his life forever.
Taking Riley's baby with her. He closed his eyes, dreading the thought of her choice. How far along was her pregnancy? It was impossible to tell, but she looked so slim, so decidedly non-pregnant, she couldn't be too far along. What if she took the easy way out? Riley was dead. She had a job that certainly didn't sound as if it catered to motherhood. How could he convince her to continue her pregnancy and carry the child to term?
Carry to term, give birth…then turn the baby over to him?
He watched as another cereal flake disappeared beneath the milk.
Maybe not. The idea had merit. She couldn't possibly want a child, not a woman like her. It shouldn't be all that difficult. Money wasn't a problem. He had a good lawyer who could handle the legalities. Seamus and Ms. Malone wouldn't need to ever see each other again, not if it were handled properly.
He looked up from the bowl of soggy cereal and stared at the empty doorway. She'd stormed from the room almost ten minutes ago. He still felt her presence.
Kat's scream galvanized him. Swearing under his breath, Seamus raced out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He paused long enough to grab the only weapon he could think of, his grandmother's brass-tipped cane.
The stalker, somehow, had found Kathleen.
Her door was closed, but he forced it open without even trying the handle. He raced into the room with the cane raised.
She huddled on the carpet next to the bathroom door, her face as pale as the white shirt she still wore, holding a towel tightly between her legs.
A towel covered in blood.
"Seamus," she cried. "Help me. I don't want to lose the baby."
He picked her up off the floor and, holding her close to his chest like a child, sat in the big rocker next to the bed. She trembled. Was she in pain? Was it fear?
Fear of losing the baby.
She'd already chosen to keep it.
A deep sense of relief sharpened by unrelenting terror energized him. Seamus grabbed the phone and dialed 911, gave the dispatcher the necessary information and waited.
Kathleen clung to him, pale, vulnerable, so unlike the harridan who'd stormed out of his kitchen moments before.
Had their argument caused this? "You'll be fine." He stroked one finger along the line of her jaw, silently saying the prayers of his childhood, projecting the calm demeanor he'd practiced over the years. There was no need for her to know he trembled as much as she; no reason to frighten her with his own fears.
"Seamus." Her voice was nothing more than a whisper. "I'm so sorry. I don't want you to think I ever considered…would ever..." Her body stiffened. She grimaced, a low moan of pain ending in a sob.
"Shhh...it's okay." He brushed the damp hair back from her eyes, prayed for an end to her pain. He'd never felt so helpless. "You'll be fine. The baby will be fine. We'll work everything out when you're better. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lose my temper. I want to take care of you, Kathleen. You and the baby."
She thought about that, about turning all her worries and fears over to this stranger who wasn't really a stranger at all. His face was already familiar, his voice was deep, soft, and so reassuring. As much as he angered her, she somehow knew she could trust him, and could count on Seamus O'Rourke to keep her safe.
He would watch over her…over their baby. Thinking that, believing him, she allowed herself to fade into oblivion.
SEAMUS FOLLOWED KATHLEEN'S AMBULANCE through the foggy morning streets of San Francisco, staying as close behind as traffic lights and traffic would allow.
Then he followed her into the hospital.
Seamus hated hospitals, the smell, the impersonal bustle of too many people intent on their business, the sounds of others hurting, the tears of those whose loved ones were beyond pain.
Usually, he loved efficiency. Now, it merely proved a barrier between him and Kathleen. He handled the paperwork without thinking, paced until his legs were numb, sat and willed Kathleen and the baby well.
Coffee cups stacked up on the small table beside him. Janitors came and cleared them away. A candy striper offered him a bagel and a smile. He could only summon a blank stare in reply.
Time passed. He knew it must be passing, but the minutes blended into hours and the hours meshed, one into the other, so when the doctor finally tapped him on the shoulder he could only gape at the woman and resent the interruption to his brooding.
He nodded, afraid to ask.
"I'm Dr. Jeffries...your wife's physician. I want you to know she'll be fine."
Wife? He didn't correct her because he didn't see the need. Kathleen was all right. "The baby?" He looked into the doctor's sad brown eyes that had seen much more pain than a young woman should bear.
"She hasn't lost the baby, at least not yet. There's still a risk. She's just over five months along. Survivability for the fetus at this point...well, we want to keep her overnight, keep her on an IV until the pregnancy is stabilized. If she doesn't abort within the next twenty-four hours, I think she'll be fine. She'll have to limit her activities over the next few months. No lifting, no bending-" She paused, as if measuring Seamus's temperament. "-no sexual activity."
He nodded, sighed, smiled at the doctor. "That won't be a problem." It was difficult to ignore the irony of the situation. "May I see her?"
"Of course. Follow me."
Kathleen's normally fair complexion was the shade of alabaster, the dark blue shadows under her eyes the only hint of color. Seamus paused in the doorway, alternately hating and loving his brother that he, Seamus, should be standing here now, worrying himself sick over a woman he hardly knew; worrying about a child that wasn't his, a child he wanted more than he'd ever wanted anything, ever.
A child with a very fragile hold on life.
Kathleen sensed him close by, slowly turned her head and looked his way. For a moment, Riley stood there watching her, a look of infinite sadness in his eyes. Then he smiled and walked into the room and it was Seamus standing by the side of the bed, awkwardly patting her hand, telling her how glad he was that she was going to be all right.
"I could still lose the baby." She wondered why her lips felt so stiff, why the words were so difficult to say. It would solve so many problems, she thought, if the unthinkable happened. She could walk away, go on with her life, and pretend none of this had ever taken place.
Pretend little whatsit hadn't existed in any form, ever.
She felt a deep sense of sadness, a feeling of incomparable loss at what might never be. Hot tears scalded the corners of her eyes. She wanted to brush them away, but lacked the energy.
"You won't." The strength behind his words made it true. He lightly touched her face, wiped the errant tears away with his thumb, then once again covered her hand with his.
"I...." God it was hard to apologize, to retract all those things she'd said in anger.
He didn't give her the chance. No, he was moving right ahead, a veritable bulldozer where her intentions were involved. "This time there's no discussion. You'll stay with me. The doctor said you can't be alone. You'll need bed rest until you're completely stabilized, then you're to take it easy over the next few weeks if you want to prevent a miscarriage. Since I work at home, I can be there for you. I have the extra room and my housekeeper will be thrilled to have someone to coddle."
He glared at her and for a moment she thought she saw a flash of humor in those green eyes of his, but it was quickly shielded. "So don't even try to argue, Ms. Malone. Not this time, because it just won't work."
"At least I know I'll eat well." She unobtrusively pulled her hand out from under his. She'd learned a long time ago it was important to pick your battles. She didn't have the energy to fight this one right now. "I would assume a food critic only allows the best?"
"Exactly." He smiled briefly, looked down at his suddenly empty hand and shoved it in his pocket. He cleared his throat and stepped back from the bed. Kathleen almost smiled at his uncharacteristically awkward movements, as if he didn't know where to look, what to say.
"They keep calling me Mrs. O'Rourke." She studied his face, watching for his reaction.
He flushed, cleared his throat again and looked just over her shoulder. She wondered what was so interesting about a blank green wall.
"It made it easier to get in to see you to find out about your condition. If you're not related, hospital policy is...they don't..." He was obviously avoiding eye contact. "I'll correct it right away."
"It's not important," she said, wondering why that was so. Usually her identity was her mainstay, the thing that gave her control. Now, the only important factor was this fragile life inside her. Or maybe not so fragile, the way it was hanging on, fighting to survive.
"Is there anything you need?" he asked, still not meeting her eyes. "A clean gown, toothbrush, comb...?" His voice trailed off.
"I don't own a nightgown." She wasn't sure why she even said such a thing, even if it was true. "At home I sleep in the nude. Here I get this dandy little thing with a slit up the back." She smiled when he blushed. Why had he seemed so threatening earlier this morning? One thing for certain, he was definitely nothing like Riley, something she suddenly found terribly appealing.
She glanced at the little plastic bowl of personal items the nurse had left. "Maybe a comb or hairbrush? Everything else seems to be provided."
"I'll take care of it." The look of relief on his face said a lot more than he probably realized. Kathleen was still grinning when he turned and quickly walked out of the room.
HE CALLED MRS. ANDREWS and explained they'd have a guest for the next couple of weeks, hopefully longer. When he told the housekeeper it was a female guest who would need extra care because of a difficult pregnancy, he could almost hear the old gal's wheels turning.
He'd let Kathleen answer any questions. Knowing Hazel Andrews, there'd be plenty.
Seamus wasn't certain, at this point, what to tell people.
His agent was going to have a field day. Frank made no secret of the fact he thought Seamus was gay. Seamus had never seen any great need to correct him. It certainly kept his philandering agent from constantly trying to set him up with one woman or another of questionable reputation.
The lack of women in his life, his interest in food and the arts, his impeccable style of dress and non-existent social life had been proof enough for Frank to make all kinds of assumptions about his client.
Having a beautiful woman…a beautiful, pregnant woman…living in his home was going to really throw the little guy for a loop!
Seamus chuckled aloud. He almost looked forward to his next conversation with Frank.
He knew he was an oddity in this day and age, but that didn't usually bother him. Today, though, as he walked down the long green hallway to the hospital gift shop, he wondered what his friends…and his agent…would think of his basically celibate life.
He'd never been in love, other than the occasional young man's crush. As an adult, his affairs had been few and far between, always discreet, and never-not ever-emotional. He'd never felt the rush of passion he read about. Had never known a desire so deep as to bring him back for a second night with any of his infrequent partners.
He'd never understood the power of love between man and woman.
He wasn't certain why it hadn't happened, though he honestly suspected his own behavior was a backlash to Riley's. Even his youthful decision to become a priest had followed one of Riley's more outrageous escapades.
Thank goodness Gran had convinced him you didn't become a priest because you're embarrassed by your brother's behavior, no matter how awful the transgression.
No, his fairly celibate lifestyle hadn't been the result of his religious beliefs. He guessed he'd just never met anyone interesting enough, or challenging enough.
Then there'd been the issue of children…or lack of them. He'd never gotten to know any woman well enough to explain, never cared enough for it to be a concern.
Besides, he'd had so many other things to worry about over the years.
There'd been Gran and her long illness after years of raising her twin grandsons. Of course, there'd always been Riley and the worrying and wondering over exactly what kind of scrape his irresponsible twin was going to get into next. They'd all been shocked when he ended up in law enforcement, but it was probably the only thing, other than Seamus, that had kept him out of jail.
Well, Riley'd definitely gotten himself into a scrape of monumental proportions this time. Once again Seamus was putting his life on hold to bail him out. Taking a woman under his wing who not only didn't appreciate his help one iota, but who seemed bound and determined to fight him and insult him every step of the way.
This was definitely going to be a difficult pregnancy...for both of them.
Muttering to himself, Seamus stared at the array of hairbrushes and combs in the tiny gift shop and wondered what sort of bristles worked best on hair the texture of silk.
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